It’s a common misconception that debut films are always going to be second best. Tarantino proved us wrong with creating Reservoir Dogs, as did George Lucas with American Graffiti. They also have a good knack of leading on to much greater things, in both of those examples the directors went on to create some of the greatest films of all time (Tarantino directing Pulp Fiction and Lucas directing Star Wars). So I always look forward to debuts and second films, especially the possibilities that they open, and I found myself in such a situation with Animal Kingdom. It was a theatrically layered and unexpectedly good, and the debut film of David Michod.
His next film The Rover follows a man tracking down a group of thieves in an apocalyptic Australia. This is dangerous territory, the second film can lead to great things, but also spell disaster. This thriller has a very minimalistic writing style to it, but this can work brilliantly if carried out correctly. There is quite a lack of psychological and character complexity, the plot means that there isn’t much room to expand on the initial scenario that we see at the start of the film.
However, it manages to make up for this with some impressive performances. The production design is very admirable as well, creating an apocalyptic wasteland effectively and simplistically. Guy Pearce uses his usual silent but strong persona to create a rather menacing protagonist. Admittedly he’s not much of a relatable character, it’s understandable what this character does but we don’t share or connect with his emotional turmoil. Robert Pattinson offers an enjoyable performance, especially when compared to some of his previous projects, he successfully portrays a once innocent character who is forced to take desperate measures to ensure his survival in an every-man-for-himself-world.
Combined with Pearce’s hard as nails character they form quite an interesting duo. In many ways the setting of this film is more interesting than the actual plot or characters. The economic collapse that has virtually destroyed the world seems like an interesting idea. In many ways though, this can be seen as a problem. All great films of this genre have had a more interesting factor than the setup. Can anyone actually remember the cause of the carnage in Mad Max, not really. But who cares about that? We’re treated to some spectacular action sequences, design, characters and of course Max, who’s mad. Sadly The Rover can’t quite match any of those elements, it’s good, but not memorable.
However, for now the film has a very appealing nature to it. Everything feels real and detailed, like I said before Michod has had a challenge with this film, but he has directed it very well. The cinematography is striking and the production of this wasteland is very effective, making good use of the Australian landscape. I would also highly recommend the original soundtrack, it works very well with the desolate scenes. However it lacks the emotional depth and spectacular action (maybe it’s not meant to be an action film but it would need to be much smarter in terms of story to pull off no action) to make it stand out.